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Patent office seeks to go paperless by 2004

By Todd R. Weiss
June 3, 2002 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Start-to-finish electronic-filing capabilities are slated to come to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office by 2004, as the agency works to reduce the time it takes to review patent and trademark applications.
The coming changes were outlined today by James Rogan, the agency's undersecretary for intellectual property, in a teleconference about how the office will restructure to deal with an increasing number of applications each year. The modernization is part of the office's 21st Century Strategic Plan, which aims to make the office more efficient and responsive.
The agency hopes to save as much as $500 million in costs by going to an all-electronic filing process, Rogan said.
Today, patent applications wait an average of about two years before they are decided, Rogan said, and the delay soon could balloon to three years. This year, some 340,000 applications are expected to be filed, joining a backlog of 408,000 applications that await the agency's 3,400 application examiners. Rogan said he hopes to reduce the patent review process to an average of 18 months and trademarks to an average of 12 months by changing how the agency accepts, reviews and decides upon applications.
"This will be accomplished through a radical redesign of the entire patent search and examination system based upon four examination tracks, greater reliance on commercial service providers and variable, incentive-driven fees," he said in a statement. "Electronic end-to-end processing of both patents and trademarks is the centerpiece of our business model."
Currently, some applications can be filed electronically with the agency, but there are still many applications that come in on paper.
Brigid Quinn, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based Patent and Trademark Office, said the department is looking to improve application procedures and speed the review process.
More details are expected to be released within two weeks, she said, including the technologies to be used and possibly which vendors will be brought in for the project.
The streamlining processes is scheduled to be in place by Oct. 1, 2003, for trademarks applications and by Oct. 1, 2004, for patent applications.
Len Rubin, an intellectual property attorney at Gordon & Glickson LLC in Chicago, said the continuing modernization of the patent and trademark application processes is welcome and follows the agency's slow but sure progress in going paperless over the past few years, especially in the world of trademark applications. "What's new about this is that they are going to bring patent applications in line as well," Rubin said. "They are so far along as far as the trademark filings are concerned that it seems to me to bea realistic timeline."

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